|By Kevin Collison, The Kansas City Star,
Mo.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jun. 16, 2009--Ron Jury's proposal to renovate the historic Power & Light Building as part of a major convention hotel project, whether it happens or not, has a great backstory.
It was January 2003.
Jury was struggling to finance his plan to renovate the old President Hotel, which sits directly across Baltimore Avenue from the Power & Light Building. It had been 15 months since he'd first announced the project, and his loan from an Ohio lender had fallen through the previous summer.
The Kansas City Tax Increment Financing Commission, which had supported tax incentives for the plan, was becoming increasingly skeptical, and pressure was building from influential people who wanted the old President torn down.
Then there was Steve Brettell.
Brettell had an agreement with Gailoyd Enterprises, the owner of the Power & Light, to renovate the old skyscraper and build a new residential tower next door. But his project couldn't occur, he warned Jury and the TIF Commission that January day, if the President remained a derelict.
"If it doesn't go forward quickly, we'd like to see it go away," Brettell said then. "I'd hate to see the President Hotel sit the way it is for another six months."
Needless to say, Jury's project came to a successful conclusion in January 2006 when the Hilton President Kansas City reopened following a $45.4 million renovation. On top of that, he won a $43 million settlement from an Ohio law firm that had messed up the earlier loan.
As for Brettell, while he managed to assemble the properties required for his plan and was authorized $24.2 million in TIF assistance, it's Jury who had the last laugh. He's got the deal with Gailoyd now.
Not that Jury was willing to crow when asked about Brettell last week.
"Economic conditions changed," was all Jury would say, although he couldn't stop a broad smile.
Instead, he was focused on pushing his Power & Light-based convention hotel proposal, which includes erecting a new hotel tower next to the old skyscraper, as well as building ballroom and meeting space. The $350 million plan would redevelop the entire block except for the existing Crowne Plaza hotel.
And while it's still way ahead of the game -- the Kansas City Council has not committed to building a 1,000-room hotel, let alone chosen a developer and site -- Jury is again displaying the tenaciousness and business savvy that he brought to the President Hotel project.
It was no accident that Jury came to a briefing last week prepared with sophisticated architectural drawings of his proposal, complete with a bird's eye view of how the proposed hotel site would align nicely with Bartle Hall, Municipal Auditorium, the Kansas City Power & Light District and the Sprint Center.
He also had at the table Pat O'Neill, a veteran public relations specialist with deep experience in local politics. O'Neill knows the media, knows City Hall and, should this hotel proposal move forward, knows how to run campaigns if that's necessary.
Which touches on a larger issue of how the city, should it embrace a convention hotel plan, sell the public on the idea.
As opposed to the last big crusade, the 2004 effort to win funding for the Sprint Center, there is no readily apparent leader to be the public face of a campaign.
Former mayor Kay Barnes was the cheerleader for the arena, and it's hard to imagine anyone in city government right now who could do that job.
Should the business community rally behind the idea, Bill Lucas, the president of the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association, might be an appealing candidate. His organization is pushing hard for the new hotel, and Lucas, who runs Crown Center, home of the Hyatt and Westin hotels, could be seen as an honest broker.
Then there's another potential leader: the Power & Light Building itself.
"It's time to restore a historic downtown icon that's been sitting underutilized for at least 20 years," Jury said.
A "Save the Power & Light Building" campaign, wrapped in a convention hotel deal, could have a powerful resonance in a city that's shown it cares about its heritage when it comes to landmarks such as Union Station and Liberty Memorial.
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